WILL THE RAPTURE BE SECRET OR PUBLIC?
Millions of Christians today believe that Christ will return secretly and take the church to heaven. Then, seven years later, He will come again in power and great glory. During the seven years between these two comings of Christ, the Antichrist is supposed to appear and cause the great tribulation. Thus, faithful Christians will escape the tribulation because they will be in heaven. All living believers and faithful Christians who have died since the day of Pentecost will be secretly taken to heaven in bodily form when the rapture occurs at the beginning of the seven-year period of tribulation.(1)
This teaching is based on a futuristic interpretation of Bible prophecy. In futurism, the Bible passages that speak of the Antichrist are not applied historically to the great medieval apostasy of Rome or to the false system of religion that the book of Revelation predicts will be instituted by the Papacy, apostate Protestantism, and spiritism near the end of time. This historical application of prophecy, which was largely accepted by the sixteenth-century Reformers, was rejected by Jesuit theologians in the counter-Reformation, the Roman Catholic reaction to the Protestant Reformation.
The first great futurist interpreter of Bible prophecy was Francisco Ribera (1537-1591), a Spanish Jesuit who taught at the University of Salamanca.(2) About 1590 he published a 500-page commentary on the book of Revelation, in which he denied the Protestant application of Antichrist to the Church of Rome. Ribera applied the first few chapters of Revelation to ancient Rome; the rest of the book, he said, would be fulfilled during a literal three and a half year period when an infidel Antichrist would persecute believers just before the second Advent of Christ. The Antichrist would be a single individual, who would conquer the world, claim to be God, rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and abolish Christianity. In his Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, L. E. Froom comments: "Thus in Ribera's commentary was laid the foundation for that great structure of Futurism, built upon and enlarged by those who followed, until it became the common Catholic position. And then, wonder of wonders, in the nineteenth century this Jesuit scheme of interpretation came to be adopted by a growing number of Protestants, until today Futurism, amplified and adorned with the rapture theory, has become the generally accepted belief of the Fundamentalist wing of popular Protestantism."(3)
The futurist interpreter, George E. Ladd agrees: "The rediscovery of futurism is associated with the names of S. R. Maitland, James Todd, and William Burgh. [These were early nineteenth-century Protestant writers]. Before we turn to these men, we should note that a futurist interpretation of prophecy had earlier been recovered within the Roman Catholic Church. It will probably come as a shock to many modern futurists to be told that the first scholar in relatively modern times who returned to the patristic futuristic interpretation was a Spanish Jesuit named Ribera."(4)
Ladd points out that the revival of futurism among Protestants in the early nineteenth century did not at first include the doctrine of the pretribulation rapture(5) This doctrine was first taught by the Plymouth Brethren, a group joined by John Nelson Darby in 1827. He became the leader of this small denomination and, over a period of years, was able to popularize the secret rapture doctrine in England and America.(6) The secret rapture idea is, therefore, an outgrowth of the revival of futurism. Protestants have accepted a Roman Catholic kind of interpretation that is designed to protect the Papacy from being identified as the great beast power of Revelation 13 and 17. And multitudes have accepted the additional teachings of J. N. Darby and his supporters. These teachings, known as dispensationalism, include the doctrine of the secret rapture.
Since dispensationalist teaching comes from J. N. Darby, it is sometimes referred to as "Darbyism." The great American popularizer of Darby's teachings was C. I. Scofield, whose Scofield Reference Bible has been very influential since the early twentieth century. Other more recent study Bibles, such as the Ryrie Study Bible also present dispensationalist theology.
The main lines of dispensational teaching are given in a previous article. (See "Is Israel Still God's Chosen Nation?") The aspect of this teaching concerning us here is the idea that the church is secretly raptured before the seven-year tribulation. Dispensationalists think the secret rapture necessary so that God's plan for literal Israel can be fulfilled after the church has been taken up to heaven.
Clarence Bass comments: "Undoubtedly the point at which most people accept dispensationalism is in the doctrine of the rapture of the church before the great tribulation. Unknowingly, many identify this as the only premillennial position, although in the entire history of prophetic interpretation this idea is unknown. Premillennialists have always believed that Christ would return personally, literally, and visibly to establish the millennial reign, but only with the advent of dispensationalism has the pre-tribulation concept emerged."(7)
The seven-year period after the secret rapture and immediately
before the glorious appearing of Christ is said to be divided into
two periods of three-and-one-half years each. During the first
three-and-one-half years Israel enters into a covenant with the
Antichrist, who breaks the covenant at the end of that period. At the
beginning of the second period of three-and-one-half years Satan
overpowers the Antichrist and the world suffers the "time of Jacob's
trouble." For the full seven years the gospel of the kingdom is
preached [not the gospel of grace]. "An elect remnant of Israel,
numbering 144,000 survives the tribulation to become the kingdom to
which Christ returns after the seven
years."(8) In His glorious, public
appearing after the seven years, Christ brings the previously
raptured saints from heaven with Him and establishes His millennial
reign upon this earth. Is this dispensationalist scenario for the end
of human history taught in the Bible? Do the Scriptures predict a
secret rapture followed by a seven-year tribulation prior to the
glorious appearing Christ?
THE BIBLE WORDS THAT REFER TO THE SECOND COMING OF
Some dispensationalist Bible interpreters think that a different Greek word is used in the New Testament for the coming of Christ to rapture the believers than that used for the later coming after the seven-year tribulation. They teach that Christ's coming to rapture the church secretly to heaven is referred to in the Greek New Testament as the parousia. His coming in power and great glory seven years later, they argue, is the "revelation," or, in Greek, the apokalypsis. If we could find such a distinction in the use of the Greek words, we might conclude that there is some point to their argument. In fact there is no such distinction.(9) The Greek New Testament uses three words in speaking of the second coming of Jesus: parousia which means "presence," "coming," "arrival," "advent"; apokalypsis which may be translated "revelation," "revealing," "disclosure," "appearing," "coming"; and epiphaneia which is translated "appearing," "appearance," "manifestation," "coming," (or, once in the King James Version, "brightness").(10)
The word parousia occurs 24 times in the Greek New Testament:
The King James Version translates 22 of those instances by "coming": Matt. 24:3, 27, 37, 39; 1 Cor. 15:23; 16:17; 2 Cor. 7:6, 7; Phil. 1:26; 1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1, 8, 9; James 5:7, 8; 2 Peter 1:16; 3:4, 12; 1 John 2:28.
The King James Version translates two instances of parousia by "presence": 2 Cor. 10:10; Phil. 2:12.
The word apokalypsis occurs 18 times in the Greek New Testament. The meanings given to the word in the King James Version and the instances of those meanings are as follows:
"Revelation" (12 Times): Rom. 2:5; 16:25; 1 Cor. 14:6, 26; 2 Cor. 12:1, 7; Gal. 1:12; 2:2; Eph. 1:17; 3:3; 1 Peter 1:13; Rev. 1:1.
"Be revealed" (twice): 2 Thess. 1:7; 1 Peter 4:13.
"To lighten" (once): Luke 2:32.
"Manifestation" (once): Rom. 8:19.
"Coming" (once): 1 Cor. 1:7.
"Appearing" (once): 1 Peter 1:7.
The word epiphaneia occurs 6 times in the Greek New Testament:
The King James Version translates it 5 times by "appearing": 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 1:10; 4:1, 8; Titus 2:13.
Once in the King James Version epiphaneia is translated
brightness: 2 Thess. 2:8.
A careful examination of the New Testament uses of the above Greek words reveals the following:
1. None of these texts speak of a secret coming of Christ. There is no such event to rapture the believers seven years before His grand public appearance in the clouds of heaven.
2. Each of the Greek words used in the Scriptures to refer to the second advent of Christ speaks of a public event that will be witnessed by humanity in general; including both righteous and wicked. What could be more public than the event described in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17? (Verse 15 uses parousia.) Or that portrayed in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10? (Verse 7 uses apokalypsis.) Or that described in Titus 2:13 which uses epiphaneia? In each of these three passages a different Greek word for the second advent is used.
This New Testament truth that there is one second advent which will be seen by all is further emphasized in other passages of Scripture: "Look! He is coming with clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail" (Rev. 1:7; cf. 6:14-17). "This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).
3. Each of the three Greek words is applied to the coming in which, (i) believers are delivered from this earth; (ii) the wicked are destroyed. The two events occur simultaneously in the same coming of Christ. It is not true that parousia refers to a secret rapture of believers, while the apokalypsis is the public event seven years later. The parousia is the apokalypsis. The coming and the revelation of Christ are one and the same event. Parousia is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:15, which describes the deliverance of the righteous. The same word is used in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, which speaks of the wicked being destroyed. Likewise the apocalypse or revelation is the coming at which both righteous and wicked are dealt with; righteous translated and wicked destroyed. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 speaks of "rest" for the righteous "at the revealing [or revelation, or apocalypse] of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels." But at this same revealing the Lord "in flaming fire" takes "vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ."
The epiphany (epiphaneia) is the "manifestation," "appearing" of Christ. Thus, according to the secret rapture teaching, it should refer not to the rapture of the church, but to the appearing of Christ at the end of the seven-year tribulation. In fact, it does refer to the appearing of Christ at which the wicked are destroyed. 2 Thessalonians 2:8 speaks of the "epiphany of his parousia," or "the manifestation [appearing] of his coming," at which the wicked are destroyed. Since, however, the "coming" here is the parousia, it is established that this is the same event as the epiphany. Moreover, 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 4:8; and Titus 2:13 present the epiphany as the glorious event in which the righteous receive their redemption and reward. So, the epiphany is not just the manifestation of Christ to destroy the wicked. It is the great public event at which the righteous are taken to be with their Lord.
Believers in the secret rapture use Matthew 24:37-42 as evidence for their interpretation. "But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming [parousia] of the Son of man be. . . . Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come" (KJV). The taking of the one while the other remains is supposed to be a secret event at the beginning of the seven-year tribulation. But consider the context! The "coming" (parousia; vss. 37, 39) is likened to Noah's entry into the ark. What happened to those who were left out of the ark? Were they given a period of time to change their minds? Indeed no! They were destroyed in the waters of the flood. What happens to those who are left (verse 41) at the coming of Christ? Verses 50 and 51 answer: "The Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (KJV). That day is the day of the "coming" (parousia) spoken of in verses 37 and 39. The wicked who are left on this earth at the second coming of Jesus are immediately destroyed.
Luke's parallel emphasizes the point dramatically (Luke 17:33-37). After repeating Matthew's statement about the two women grinding together, Luke adds, "Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left" (verse 36, KJV). The disciples asked, "Where, Lord?" (verse 37). They wanted to know where the ones not taken to be with Christ would be left. Jesus answered, "Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together." The point is that the ones left behind will be immediately destroyed by the brightness of Jesus' coming (cf. 2 Thess. 1:7-9; Rev. 19:21).
It is important to understand that the "coming" (parousia) of Matthew 24:37 and 39 is the same coming described by Jesus in verse 27: "For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming [parousia] of the Son of man be" (KJV). Hence, the coming of Christ, at which he takes some from earth and destroys others, is a great cosmic, cataclysmic event. There is nothing secret about it. In fact, in the preceding verse, we have Jesus warning about any kind of secret coming: "Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not" (Matt. 24:26, KJV). Certainly, this is a different kind of secret coming to the one imagined by the secret rapture exponents; but Jesus point was that His coming will not be secret in any sense. It will be a display of massive glory (verse 27), associated with the translation of the saved and the destruction of the wicked. [Notice the parallel between the next verse, Matthew 24:28, and Luke 17:37].
There is no distinction in Scripture between a secret rapture of
the church and the revelation of Christ seven years later. The New
Testament clearly teaches that Christ's second advent is one event,
not two, and that this glorious coming is the time when believers are
taken to heaven with Him and unbelievers are destroyed by the
brightness of His divine presence. The parousia, the apocalypse, and
the epiphany are one and the same event.
THE TRIBULATION AND THE RESURRECTION OF THE RIGHTEOUS DEAD
Next we inquire, when does the great end-time tribulation occur? Is it before or after true believers are taken to be with their Lord? Related is the question, when does the resurrection of the righteous dead occur? Is it before or after the great end-time tribulation? Teachers of the secret rapture declare that only the resurrection of the righteous Christians, who have died since the day of Pentecost, occurs at the time of the rapture, and that this is before the seven-year period of tribulation. What does the Bible teach? We will answer these questions by referring to specific Bible passages.
1. According to Jesus, when will the tribulation occur, before or after the rapture of the elect? Jesus explained to His disciples: "Immediately after the suffering [thlipsin = tribulation] of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matt. 24:29-31).
Jesus stated specifically that the rapture of His people (verse 31) will occur "after the tribulation of those days" (verse 29, KJV). The events of verses 29 and 30 occur just before and during the second advent of Jesus. Then His angels gather His elect from around the world (verse 31). The passage does not say that the elect come from heaven with Jesus. They are not gathered for ultimate salvation until the Son of Man comes "on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (verse 30).
2. According to Paul, when is the work of Antichrist performed, before or after the coming of Christ for believers? Paul clearly taught that the work of the Antichrist is performed before the coming of Christ for believers (2 Thess. 2:1-8). The apostasy and the appearing of the "man of sin" (verse 3, KJV) or "lawless one" (NRSV) occur before "the day of the Lord" (verses 2, 3). This "day of the Lord" (verse 2), for which the believers are to look, is the time at which the Antichrist is destroyed by the spirit of the Lord's mouth "annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming" (verse 8). The word coming in verse 8 translates parousia, the word which dispensationalists say applies to the secret rapture. But Paul applies the word to the coming at which the Antichrist is destroyed. This coming is the "day of the Lord" mentioned in verse 2, at which believers are gathered "together unto him" (verse 1, KJV). The work of Antichrist will be performed before Christ comes for believers.
3. According to the book of Revelation, do faithful Christian believers pass through the end-time tribulation? Jesus promises to keep His people "from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth" (Rev. 3:10). This does not mean that He will take us out of the world, but that He will shelter us from the great tribulation that is coming. In fact, after the believers are in heaven, they are spoken of as "they who have come out of the great tribulation" (7:14, RSV). The decrees passed by the end-time Antichrist against God's people would be meaningless if they were not still on earth (Rev. 13:15-17). Those who are faithful to the Lord will reject the image and mark of the beast. Some of them will be put to death, and none of them will be permitted to buy or sell. The ones who are saved are those who "had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark" (Rev. 15:2, KJV). John was given a vision of these faithful ones in the heavenly Kingdom after they had, by God's grace, successfully resisted the demands of the end-time Antichrist. "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years" (Rev. 20:4, KJV).
4. Does the first resurrection, the resurrection of the righteous, take place before or after the end-time tribulation? Revelation 20:4-6 answers the question: "4 Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. . . . 5 . . . This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years."
The first resurrection of Revelation 20:5, 6, the resurrection of the righteous dead, clearly comes after the great tribulation, because those who get the victory over the beast, his image, and his mark (verse 4) are included in this first resurrection.
5. Are the righteous raised secretly or when Christ appears publicly at His second advent? There is nothing secret about the advent of Jesus as spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-54. "The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God" (1 Thess. 4:16, KJV). This is the same trumpet that is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:52, the sounding of which results in the resurrection of the righteous at the second coming of Jesus. It is a great public event. First Thessalonians 4:14 does not mean that God brings the righteous from heaven with Him when He comes. The text reads in the Revised Standard Version: "For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep." This means that the Lord brings the righteous from the grave at the second coming of Jesus, as He brought Jesus from the grave after his crucifixion. The "dead in Christ" rise from the grave when the Lord descends "from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God" (verse 16, KJV). The righteous dead do not come down with Christ in this great public coming. They rise from the grave to be with Him for eternity.
6. Who are the righteous raised at Christ's second advent? Do they include Old Testament believers? The righteous dead of all ages are raised in the same resurrection at the second coming of Jesus. There is absolutely no evidence that the Christian dead are raised in a secret resurrection before the rest of the righteous dead. First Corinthians 15:22, 23 contrasts death for all in Adam, with resurrection for all those "that are Christ's" at His second coming. The passage reads: "For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ." This includes the faithful who died in Old Testament times. Those who are Christ's are those who died having Abraham's faith (Gal. 3:29). This includes multitudes of faithful ones who died before the time of Jesus. (Compare 1 Cor. 15:17-19.) Like Abraham, they died believing in the Messiah to come, and like Abraham, they will be raised in the first resurrection when the trumpet sounds at Christ's second coming (1 Cor. 15:51-54).
The first resurrection cannot be divided into two parts as the
secret rapture teachers divide it. They say that the first part is
the secret rapture of the Christians who died after Pentecost, and
the second part is the resurrection of the Old Testament righteous at
the second advent. The Bible has nothing to say about such a two-part
first resurrection. It simply predicts that the righteous dead of all
ages will be raised together at the second coming of Jesus. This will
occur after the great tribulation in which God's people will be
persecuted by the beast and his image (the end-time
IS THERE A SEVEN-YEAR TRIBULATION?
There is no passage of Scripture that says there will be a seven-year period of tribulation before the second coming of Jesus. We have no idea from the Bible how long the end-time tribulation will last. The secret rapturists take a text in Daniel 9 completely out of context in an attempt to establish the idea of a seven-year tribulation.
Daniel predicted that a period of "seventy weeks" (or "seventy sevens") would be set aside by God as a period of probation for His chosen people, the Jews. "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy" (Dan. 9:24, KJV). Seventy times seven is 490.
Verses 25 and 26 read: "25 Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. 26 And after three score and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off. . . ."
Since the "seventy weeks" (verse 24) was to reach from the going forth of the commandment to restore Jerusalem to the time of the Messiah, the 490 must refer to years. 490 days or months would not reach so far. God's commandment to restore Jerusalem was put into effect by three Persian monarchs (Ezra 6:14): Cyrus, Darius I, and Artaxerxes I. Hence, God's commandment was not completely applied until the decree of Artaxerxes in the 457 B.C. This decree was put into operation in the autumn of that year.(11) 490 years from 457 B.C. brings us to A.D. 34.
Sixty-nine sevens (or weeks. 7 + 62 = 69), or 483 years, were to reach from 457 B.C. to the appearance of the Messiah (Daniel 9:25). Jesus Christ was baptized and His mission as the Messiah began in A.D. 27, just 483 years after 457 B.C. (Compare Luke 3:1, 21).
There remains one week of the 70 to be dealt with. The secret rapturists agree that the 69 weeks of this prophecy were fulfilled before the death of the Messiah. But they take the final week and apply it to the great tribulation just before the second coming of Jesus. They argue that a 2,000 year gap occurs between the end of the 69 weeks and the beginning of the 70th. There is not the slightest suggestion in Scripture that such an application of Daniel's 70th week is correct.
Quite the contrary! Jesus confirmed the covenant with the Jews for one week. "And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease" (Dan. 9:27). Jesus confirmed the covenant to the Jews by: (1) His ministering personally to them for the 3 1/2 years, from His baptism to His death (from the autumn of A.D. 27 to the spring of A.D. 31); (2) His dying on the cross in the spring of A.D. 31; (3) His leading His disciples to minister only to the Jews for the next period of 3 1/2 years. (See Acts 1:8; 7:59-8:1; Heb. 2:3.) In A.D. 34, after the stoning of Stephen, the Gospel was taken to the Gentiles.
It was in the middle of that final week (AD. 27 - 34) that Christ's death caused "the sacrifice and the oblation to cease" (Dan. 9:27). The ceremonial system of the Jews came to an end as far as God was concerned, because the Old Testament sanctuary symbolism met its reality in the death of Jesus and His heavenly ministry to follow. Ceremonial animal sacrifices in the temple ceased to have significance. (See Matt. 27:51; Heb. 7:27; 9:11, 12.)
The final week of the seventy (the period from A.D. 27 to 34) was
fulfilled right after the 69 weeks (the period from 457 B.C. to A.D.
27). To take that final prophetic week, or seven years, and separate
it from the other 69 weeks (or 483 years) is to destroy the
significance of the prophecy. Nowhere does the Bible say that the
final week of Daniel's prophecy is fulfilled just before Jesus
483 yrs 3 1/2 yrs 3 1/2 yrs
457 B.C. 27 A.D. 31 A.D. 34 A.D.
At the end of time there is no seven-year tribulation between a
secret rapture and the public appearance of Christ. Before Jesus
comes there will be a period of unprecedented tribulation that God's
faithful believers will pass through. But the length of this period
is not revealed in the Bible.
WILL CHRIST COME LIKE A THIEF?
As we have seen, the Bible speaks consistently of the second Advent of Christ as a great public event. He comes like a thief only in the sense that He comes unexpectedly, not in the sense that he comes secretly.
Jesus likened His coming to that of a thief to those not watching and preparing. "Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour" (Matt. 24:42-44).
Those people who are not watching and ready for Jesus' coming will be destroyed when He comes unexpectedly like a thief. "The master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 24:50, 51). But the secret rapture people tell us that the wicked are not destroyed when Jesus comes as a thief. They think they are not destroyed until seven years later. Jesus was obviously speaking of the same coming in Matthew 24:43 as in verses 30-31 and 50-51. This is the coming that He likened to lightning shining from east to west (verse 27). It will not be a secret coming, but an unexpected one for those who are not watching prayerfully for Him. (See also Rev. 3:3; 16:15.)
Paul's use of the imagery of a thief's coming was very similar to
that of Jesus. He will come like a thief to bring sudden destruction
to the wicked (1 Thess. 5:2, 3). "But you, beloved, are not in
darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all
children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or
of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us
keep awake and be sober" (1 Thess. 5:4-6). For the righteous
believers the coming
of Jesus is not unexpected, like the coming of a thief. Clearly Paul was not using the metaphor of a thief to teach a secret rapture.
The statement of Peter is thoroughly conclusive. "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed" (2 Peter 3:10). Christ's coming like a thief will involve the heavens passing away with a great noise, and the elements melting with fervent heat; "the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (2 Peter 3:10, KJV). That is not a secret coming by any means. It is an event of massive cosmic proportions in which the wicked are destroyed and the faithful delivered.
The comparison of Christ's second coming to the coming of a thief
in the night is not intended in Scripture to teach a secret
ARE THE LOST GIVEN A SECOND CHANCE?
We will let the Bible answer for itself. "See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!" (2 Cor. 6:2). There is not the slightest indication in Scripture that any lost person will have another chance after the second coming of Jesus. Just prior to Jesus' second coming, the proclamation goes forth: "Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy" (Rev. 22:11). Characters are set unchangeably for eternity. Those who are righteous in Christ then will be righteous for eternity, and those who are unrighteous will remain so just a little longer until they are destroyed at the advent. Jesus said that after that proclamation the next event is His second coming. "See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work" (verse 12). The reward of the righteous is eternal life, but that of the wicked is eternal extinction (Matt. 25:46; Mal. 4:1-3; 2 Thess. 1:7-9).
This is the consistent message of Scripture, and it is emphasized
dramatically in the visions that were given to John, recorded in the
book of Revelation. Christ is depicted as coming with a great sickle
to destroy the wicked (Rev. 14:17-20). He is portrayed as having a
great sword proceeding from His mouth "that with it he should smite
the nations" (Rev. 19:15, KJV). There is no suggestion that He is
coming secretly for the righteous, after which the wicked will have
WHERE WILL CHRIST REIGN DURING THE
At His second advent, Jesus raises the righteous dead and translates them and the righteous living to heaven (1 Thess. 4:16-18; John 14:1-3). The dispensationalist distinction, that at the time of the secret rapture Christ hovers in the clouds while at His glorious coming He descends to the earth to establish His millennial reign, is not taught in Scripture. Jesus promised: "In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:2, 3). Jesus is preparing a place for us in heaven. This is where He is, and this is the place to which He will transport the saved at His advent. Revelation 7:9-17 depicts the saved who have "come out of the great tribulation" (verse 14, RSV) "standing before the throne and before the Lamb" (verse 9). "Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple" (verse 15, NRSV). God's throne and His temple are in heaven (Rev. 4:1, 2; 11:19). The holy city, the new Jerusalem does not descend to this earth until the end of the millennium (Rev. 20:7-9; 21:1, 2). There will be no temple in the new Jerusalem after it has descended to this earth: "And I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb" (Rev. 21:22). The temple containing God's throne, before which the saved worship immediately after the second advent of Jesus (Rev. 7:15), is in heaven.
The saved live and reign with Christ in heaven for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-4). "The rest of the dead [the wicked who were destroyed at Jesus' second coming] did not come to life until the thousand years were ended" (Rev. 20:5). The wicked remain dead until the end of the millennium. Then they will be raised. This is what the book of Revelation means when it says: "When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison" (Rev. 20:7). Satan will be bound to this desolate earth for 1,000 years. Then the wicked are raised, and again Satan has an empire, a host of lost souls whom he can rule and organize to make a final assault on the saved people of God. At the end of the 1,000 the "holy city, the new Jerusalem" comes down "out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev. 21:2). The saved of all ages are in the city, and Satan leads his hosts of lost people to attack the city. "They marched up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from heaven and consumed them" (Rev. 20:9). "This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:14, 15).
Then the earth is made new (Rev. 21:1, and God's redeemed people will live for eternity as perfect beings in a perfect universe, ruled over by a perfectly loving and just God (Rev. 21:3-7; Isa. 65:17-19; 66:22, 23).
Dear Bible student, have you made your peace with God by accepting
Christ as your personal Savior from sin? He does not wish to destroy
anyone (2 Peter 3:9), and His infinite love moves Him to plead with
you to respond so that you can be among the saved in His Kingdom. Put
away false man-made teachings and accept the clear and beautiful
truths of the Word of God. Christ will come into your heart with
great love and power, and you will have the inner assurance of
eternal life with your Lord. Now is the day of salvation! Will you
1. The following are a few of the many sources that support this doctrine: Daniel P. Fuller, Gospel and Law, Contrast Or Continuum? The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1980); Salem Kirban, Special Kirban Report (Huntingdon Valley, Pa.: Salem Kirban, Inc., 1980); Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (New York: Bantam Books, 1970, 1981); John F. Walvoord, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976); The Rapture Question (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1979). For sources opposing the secret rapture doctrine see: Clarence B. Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1960, 1978); George E. Ladd, The Blessed Hope (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1956, 1960); Dave MacPherson, The Late Great Pre-Trib Rapture (Kansas City, Missouri: Heart of America Bible Society, 1974); The Unbelievable Pre-Trib Origin (Kansas City, Missouri: Heart of America Bible Society, 1973).
9. See John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1979), pp. 172, 173. Walvoord, an ardent supporter of the pretribulation rapture, admits that the argument of pretribulationists based on the different Greek words used in the New Testament for the coming of Christ is incorrect. He writes: "Some pretribulationists have erred in claiming the word parousia as a technical word referring to the Rapture. That this is not correct is shown by its usage in passages referring to the coming of Christ after the Tribulation (Matt. 24:3, 27, 37, 39; 1 Thess. 3:13; 2 Thess. 2:8; 2 Peter 1:16). The word apokalupsis, translated "revelation," is likewise used of both events."-- pp. 172, 173.
10. On the lexical meanings of these three Greek words see William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957). For the meanings given to these words by the King James Version translators see J. B. Smith, Greek-English Concordance to the New Testament (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1965). See also George E. Ladd, "The Vocabulary of the Blessed Hope," in The Blessed Hope (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1956), pp. 61-70.
11. See Siegfried H. Horn and Lynn H. Wood, The Chronology of Ezra 7 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1953, 1970). This book establishes that Artaxerxes I's decree went into effect in the autumn of 457 B.C.
© Copyright 1998 by Erwin R. Gane, All Rights Reserved. This document may be freely distributed via the following means - Email (including listservers), Usenet, and WorldWideWeb. It may not be reproduced for profit including, but not limited to, CD ROMs, books, and/or other commercial outlets without prior written consent from the author.